Once I had a friend with a rollicking head of hair and shining eyes and an air of mischief that came from the turned-up nose and the near-laughter look on her face. Maeve saw no reason not to love and be loved, and she once confided in me that she had been pregnant seven times by six different boyfriends.
Seven times! I found that fact astonishing. I was young and did not know quite what to think. I knew that the news seemed very dreadful. But she faced me down with words that combined a kind of careless innocence with bravado.
For a while I could not glance at her without imagining that a draggle-tailed line of tiny corpses followed her steps. The idea haunted me obsessively. The little ghosts were woebegone things, forlorn, bulb-headed infants with their eyes closed, wearing diapers and white onesies with the snaps undone so that each dragged a little train behind. Some of them sucked at a thumb. Their little arms were drawn upwards, as if they needed to hug themselves in the absence of any mother love. They were bowlegged, and walked on the sides of their feet. Their half-exposed bellies were as round and pale as cultured pearls.
I lost sight of Maeve for a quarter-century or more. When I met her again with husband in tow, I was surprised to find that he was as small as a boy of eleven or twelve, and that she had no children at all.